• Jiji

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The number of passports issued to the general public dived a preliminary 58.3 percent to 166,764 in March, government sources said Saturday.

The year-on-year plunge reflects restrictions on people's movement caused by flight disruptions and border closures around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of passports issued fell 1.9 percent to 406,225 in January and 31.9 percent to 262,030 in February, when the virus's spread from China became widely recognizable.

The decline in passport issuance accelerated further in March when the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic.

Passport issuance more than halved following the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States in 2001 and the 2003 SARS outbreak, according to the Foreign Ministry. Severe acute respiratory syndrome was also caused by a coronavirus.

The March result "is likely to be one of the biggest percentage drops ever," a ministry official said, adding that passport issuance is expected to fall further this month.

Outbound travel plunged in March as well, with departures sliding 85.9 percent from the year before to 272,700, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

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